Oklahoma football:Barry Switzer’s debut as OU head coach was 50 years ago today

unknown & location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Barry Switzer. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
unknown & location, USA; FILE PHOTO; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Barry Switzer. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Barry Switzer won 157 games as head coach during one of the most successful eras in Oklahoma football history. The first of those occurred 50 years ago today.

The Switzer era as head coach of the Sooners officially debuted on Sept. 15, 1973, with Oklahoma opening the season on the road against the Baylor Bears. At that time, Baylor was a member of the Southwest Conference, a league that also included Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech before all four joined the Big Eight Conference 23 years later to form what is now the Big 12.

The “Bootlegger’s Boy,” as Switzer referred to himself in his 1990 autobiography of the same title, became the Sooner head coach in 1973, but his coaching career at OU actually began six seasons before that. After the 1966 season, Switzer left the coaching staff at Arkansas, his alma mater, to join the staff of Jim Mackenzie at Oklahoma as offensive coordinator.

Oklahoma did not invent the triple-option Wishbone offense (Emory Bellard, in 1968 the offensive coordinator at Texas, is credited with that claim to fame). but it was Switzer’s Oklahoma teams that perfected the dynamic run-pounding formation.

The Wishbone was on full display in Switzer’s head-coaching debut against Baylor to kick off the 1973 season. Switzer had all kinds of confidence in his team heading into the 1973 season opener, but he wasn’t quite sure about his new starting quarterback Steve Davis, according to longtime Oklahoma radio sports talk personality Al Eschbach.

Eschbach, interviewed for an article by staff writer Joe Mussato of The Oklahoman, recalled being with Switzer the night before the 1973 Baylor game.

"“I had enough confidence in the people surrounding him (Davis), we could protect him until we could find out how well he could do,” Switzer told Eshbach.“We didn’t have to rely on him to throw the ball to win games. We could rely on him to pitch it or hand it off, or run with it, which he could do.”"

It turned out that Davis did just fine. He was one of three Sooners who rushed for over 100 yards that day in leading OU to a 42-14 season-opening win. Oklahoma rushed for 480 yards in the game with Davis contributing 110 of the total along with two touchdowns and running backs Joe Washington and Wayman Clark 113 each.

Oklahoma ran the football 72 times in the game and put the ball in the air just six times, completing three. The Barry Switzer era of Sooner football had begun.

The Sooners tied No. 1 USC 7-7 in their second game of the 1973 season and then proceeded to win 28 consecutive games over three seasons. Davis’ first win was Switzer’s first win as a head coach. Over the next three years, the quarterback and his head coach were 32-1-1 together.

Switzer spent 16 seasons as the Oklahoma head coach and compiled an overall record of 157-29-4, including three national championships and 12 conference titles. His .837 winning percentage is the best of the four legendary Sooner head coaches to win more than 100 games.

Switzer averaged nearly 10 wins per year over 16 seasons and never had a losing season. Seven times his Sooner teams won 11 games.

Switzer was hired by Jim Mackenzie, who was an assistant at Arkansas when Switzer played and coached there, but he never coached a game under Mackenzie because the head coach died in the spring of 1967. Chuck Fairbanks was hired to replace Mackenzie and Switzer stayed on as offensive coordinator.

Fairbanks left after the 1972 season following a six-year run as the Oklahoma head coach to become head coach of the NFL New England Patriots. Although Switzer appeared the obvious choice to succeed him, the Oklahoma Board of Regents wasn’t so sure, only offering the former offensive coordinator a nine-month contract.

"“Hell, I don’t need a contract,” Switzer told the Board of Regents. “We’re gonna win.”"

And win he did, 84 percent of the time over the next 16 seasons at Oklahoma. That ranks fifth all-time in winning percentage among college coaches. And it all began with a win over Baylor on this date in 1973.